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View from the back door of the wisteria in full bloom
Chinese wisteria in full bloom

- spring.

Got waterlogged soil?

We did too so we created a permanent drainage system for our cottage garden.

All the materials used where recovered from our plot during the preparation stage and we re-cycled a lot of the stone material we found when we drained our soil.

Our system of sinkholes - as we call them - still works perfectly after 11 years (1996 - 2007) and didn't cost a penny (apart from a couple of bags of coarse building sand, very cheap), just a fair amount of sweat and toil.

The beauty of the solution lies in the fact that it's all underground, so invisible to the naked eye.

Why is your Garden a Mud Bath?

In our own experience, we explained that our soil was waterlogged due to the presence of an underground layer of clay. The presence of clay is probably the most common cause of marshy ground.

The other major cause of waterlogged soil is compaction due to building activities, usually experienced around recently-built houses and areas. We also had to deal with soil compaction, due to the mis-use of our plot as a motorcycle repair shop for more than 30 years.

What's the visible result of waterlogged soil?

Before you start:

Step by Step Guide

This is how we did it (have your layout sketch, a pitchfork, spade, auger and wheelbarrow to hand, you're going to need them):

Start on the garden paths you've already partially excavated:

  1. Drill a hole 1/1.5 meter - 3/4½ feet - deep with the auger, a hand-held drill for earth removal.Sinkhole drilled with the auger
    In our case this meant drilling through the clay layer into the sandy soil beneath it.
  2. If you hit more rubble, even after your best clearing efforts (happened to us, causes a lot of cursing), you'll need to widen the hole with the pitchfork and remove the excess rubble - just toss it in the wheelbarrow, you'll be using it shortly.
  3. Cut the hole out to the breadth of spade - roughly 15 centimeters (6 inches) wide, right down to the bottom.Sinkhole drilled with the auger
  4. Fill the hole carefully as you don't want earth falling into it, to about 0.5 meter - 1½ feet - below ground level with the stones and builders rubble (mixed with a little coarse sand) you collected while preparing your soil. Now you understand the benefit of pre-sorting the rubble into heaps of small, medium and large pieces of stone.
  5. If you don't have any stony materials available, you'll have to obtain them somewhere. Neighbours busy with home renovation projects are often very helpful - everybody wants to get rid of building rubble.
  6. Then fill the hole to ground level (of the path) with coarse sand mixed with small stones.
  7. Repeat steps 1 to 5 with a distance of roughly 1.5 meter - 4½ feet - between each hole, as often as required till you've completed treating your garden paths.

Take a break - you probably need it by now - and look at your layout sketch. You don't need to create drainage sinkholes where you are going to dig up a pond, right?

Continue with steps 1 to 5 above, applied to the:

  1. Pond hillside - don't want them floating on - and subsiding into - a bed of permanent mud, do we?
  2. Seating areas - nothing worse than taking a seat in the middle of a mud patch.
  3. Terrace(s) - this is where you want to entertain guests or just relax and squelch noises are most unwelcome.
  4. Driveway, paved path(s) and porch - the most heavily used areas, both for motorized traffic and pedestrians.
    Adequate drainage before laying paving stones is a must for well-laid paving and is not optional.
  5. Flower beds where necessary - once you've completed the traffic areas, take another look at where you plan your flower beds.
    With luck, most of your flower beds will be within approximately 1 / 1½ mtr. (3 / 4½ ft.) of your sinkholes.
    If yes, you're finished.
    If no, add sinkholes as and where required in your planned flower borders till you've completed the job.

You've successfully built a drainage sinkhole system - congratulations!

Combined with a "no digging unless absolutely necessary" philosophy, your water sinks should solve the problem permanently.

So What's Next?

It's time for more hard labour - you are now ready to layout and prepare your garden paths. - a Gardener's Practical Guide to Natural Cottage Gardening

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